Black Lives Matter: How Exclusionary Discipline Harms Black and Brown Students (Plus Some Solutions!)

by | Jun 30, 2020


Black lives matter, and not just when Black people become adults. Currently, the public eye is very focused on police brutality against Black adults, but as school leaders, we must also take a look at how black lives matter in the classroom. Last week on our blog, we outlined some of the most glaring inequities  of the US education system. This week, we want to explain how exclusionary discipline practices negatively impact Black and Brown students. We’ll also offer some restorative solutions to misbehavior in the classroom which are healthier for students’ academic achievement and mental health.

What is Exclusionary Discipline?

In a school, exclusionary discipline refers to any type of discipline which requires removal of a student from the classroom experience. Examples include:

  • Out of School Suspensions (OSS)
  • In School Suspensions (ISS) where the student is separated from the rest of their class. They could be placed in a detention room, an assistant principal’s office, or any other place in the school which removes them from their normal learning environment.
  • Expulsions

Many schools which practice exclusionary discipline collectively refer to these practices as a zero tolerance policy.

Why is Exclusionary Discipline Bad for Students?

Studies about the effects of exclusionary discipline show evidence of the many ways that these practices negatively impact students. For example, the American Psychological Association reports that exclusionary discipline:

  • Interrupts learning, which causes a decrease in academic performance
  • Interrupts supportive services, especially for IDEA students who qualify for special supports according to their disability or special needs
  • Causes students to feel unsafe and/or as if they don’t belong in the classroom, which can further hurt their academic performance if they are unmotivated to engage in learning activities
  • Leads to more disruptive behavior — Contrary to popular belief, students who are removed from the classroom once are more likely to act out in the future because school begins to feel unsafe for them.
  • Leads to truancy and dropping out — When students continue to fall further behind in the curriculum due to exclusionary discipline, they lose motivation to keep attending school. Some also skip class or drop out because they feel embarrassed following their initial removal.
  • Is likely to support the school-to-prison pipeline — Zero tolerance policies often require educators to harshly punish students for infractions which might otherwise be considered minor, such as carrying a butter knife in one’s lunchbox or stealing school supplies from a classroom. Many of these students are referred to the juvenile justice system and have a high chance of recidivism.

How Does Exclusionary Discipline Disproportionately Impact Some Students?

According to the CSG Justice Center’s 2014 The School Discipline Consensus Report:

  • Black, Hispanic, and American Indian students are suspended at much higher rates than their White peers—sometimes at double the rate.
  • 20% of secondary school students with disabilities were suspended in a single school year, compared to fewer than 10% percent of their peers without disabilities.
  • LGBT youth are up to three times more likely to experience harsh disciplinary treatment than their heterosexual counterparts.

Additionally, the US Department of Education reports that:

  • Black students are suspended and expelled three times more frequently than White students
  • Black and Latino students account for 70% of police referrals
  • Black girls are suspended at higher rates (12%) than girls of any other race or ethnicity and most boys

What are Restorative Practices in Schools?

Fortunately, many schools and districts have seen the research about the negative impact of exclusionary discipline and are turning to restorative practices instead. Edutopia explains that “[r]estorative approaches are based on the idea that when we feel part of a supportive community, we respect others in that community and become accountable to it.”

The Schott Foundation highlights nine key types of restorative practices your school may want to consider:

  1. Restorative Justice — After an infraction has occurred, the victim has a chance to explain how they were harmed and how they feel as a result, and the wrongdoer has an opportunity to make amends.
  2. Community Conferencing — A facilitator leads everyone who has been impacted by an infraction in a collective conversation about what occurred, how the infraction has changed things, and how things can be made right.
  3. Community Service — Wrongdoers achieve self-improvement through a meaningful service project.
  4. Peer Juries — A trained group of peers meet with the wrongdoer to discuss the infraction, understand how the infraction impacted others, and decide how the wrongdoer can repair the damage.
  5. Peer Mediation — Students are trained to become mediators for their peers who are in conflict.
  6. Circle Process — Unlike the above strategies, community circles don’t just take place after an infraction has occurred. The circle process can occur on a regular schedule to help foster a sense of shared community among students and educators.
  7. Preventative and Post-Conflict Resolution Programs Conflict resolution programs help students learn to self-regulate their emotions, solve problems, and manage conflicts when they arise.
  8. Informal Restorative Practices — Restorative practices can be implemented in smaller ways without following a formal program in place. The Schott Foundation offers examples, including “the use of affective statements, which communicate people’s feelings, and affective questions, which cause people to reflect on how their behavior has affected others”.
  9. Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) SEL can be incorporated into nearly every classroom activity to help students learn how to relate to one another, build empathy, and work together constructively to prevent and address conflict.

How Can Our School or District Start to Replace Exclusionary Discipline with Restorative Practices?

The Center for Student Achievement Solutions specializes in consulting with school and district leaders to implement equitable education strategies, including restorative practices. Schedule a free call with us now to talk about how we can partner with your leaders to promote more positive outcomes for your students.